Challenging "It's Not My Job"

That’s not my job

— People who don’t get it

On some level… it is not completely their fault. I know what you are thinking. YES, IT IS! They are the ones that keep saying that phrase and it is driving me crazy. I hear you. Let’s talk about it.

I don’t think this phrase means what you think it means. If it really meant “that’s not my job,” why wouldn’t people just say “no?” “No” is so much shorter and easier to say. You can even be kind and put in a “thank you” after the “no” to be polite like your parents taught you. So what does the phrase mean then?

It means… “I don’t see the big picture”

It means… “I wasn’t trained well”

It means… “I’m frustrated with my work”

It means… “I have an issue with a co-worker”

It means… “I don’t feel seen so why should I help now”

It means… “I don’t trust you”

As I was saying earlier, it’s not completely their fault.

Have you ever heard “anger is a secondary emotion?” Well, “not my job” is a secondary meaning. All of these meanings are a product of leadership failure. I know that is a hard pill to swallow. Let’s dive deeper.


  1. I don’t see the big picture.

A failure of the leader to cast vision and give direction. Possibly even failing to re-visit the vision over and over. Remember, vision leaks and you must refill it constantly.

  1. I wasn’t well trained.

The leader made assumptions on training and development instead of asking questions.

  1. I’m frustrated with my work.

The leader hasn’t done a temperature check with his/her people.

  1. I have an issue with my co-worker.

The leader hasn’t set up an environment that is conducive to feedback.

  1. I don’t feel seen so why should I help now?

The leader has failed at recognizing and catching people doing the right thing instead of catching people doing the wrong thing.

  1. I don’t trust you.

It’s pretty clear that the leader has over-drafted from the trust bank account and is getting denied payment.


The easiest thing to do is to respond to the comment “that’s not my job” with the question “not my job?” (say it with an upward voice so it is a question). This is called mirroring. You repeat the last 3-4 words as a question and people will naturally explain without thinking about it. It is kind of magical. (Check out “Never Split The Difference” by Chris Voss for more strategies like that one). The goal is to get them talking about it.

After the conversation has started, move into the question “what’s really going on?” If something comes up, then go down that road. If they say “nothing, it just isn’t my job,” then ask if you can give them some feedback. Follow up with gracious yet direct observations.


Luke Crane is the Owner of Leadership Cohort (, a leadership coaching, training, and speaking group that focuses on sharpening mid/entry-level leaders for the next level.



Jeff Altman, The Big Game HunterJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes.

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